We're back in Gilead with our dystopian nightmare of a story, so glad we got to see something approximating a human emotion that wasn't fear, rage or sadness on The Handmaid's Tale last week. I get the point, much like every single scene is set in darkness, so are the days of these women and men's lives, but it was nice to see a little pink all the same. Rolling S1:E6 A Woman's Place after the break.
Offred (Elisabeth Moss) stands with her eyes closed by the river, reliving her night with Nick (Max Minghella) and all it's (almost three!) rewards, too bad it can never happen again. Sorry Nick.
The Handmaids are scrubbing the wall by the river, one of the hanging bodies must have made a mess on release. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) cheers them on, c'mon ladies, "He loves us for our labours!" says the one walking around looking firm doing nothing. Janine (Madeline Brewer) always makes me laugh with her refusal to not be positive, calling scrubbing dead people off walls like painting. Then staring at the bloody foam on her hands.
The spit shine is because there's a bunch of important people coming to town, says Alma (Nina Kiri), they'll be at Offred's house tonight. Party at Offys!!
Alma heard it (we're all like: HOW U NO THT?) from her commander.
Janine stares at the wall; it looks weird without dead bodies, doesn't it? SEE? You can get used to anything! That's kind of the problem, here and in real life. Can you get used to the highest level of elected official in a country using social media at 4 am to introduce new legislation / attack people who've wronged them? How about bragging casually about sexually assaulting the opposite gender? Can that become the new normal?
It doesn't all wash away, does it?
It's Ceremony Night, so just as Offred is getting a little more comfortable in the tub, in water that looks like that above being washed off. That confuses me; does she need to ask someone for her napkins? I'm probably over-thinking. Rita (Amanda Bruegel) interrupts to wish her well and tell her Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) wants to see her right after her bath.
I'm wondering if Offred's womb is scheduled for the two-for-one special again, last cycle Serena Joy had Nick attempt to fertilize Offred's pasture before the Commander came up to plate.
I'm super terrible at farming and sports metaphors.
Offred's not been invited into the inner sanctum for pre-gaming, however, Serena Joy wanted to make sure Offred understood how important this evening is and how she better not mess it up. No, she looks fine, "red's my colour" tosses out Offred, well isn't that lucky. She's better not disappoint Serena Joy this evening.
Watching these two women together is always a master class in unstated aggression. You can see that Serena Joy resents having to treat this grown woman as a plaything she has to pick up after, but she also believes that Offred is inferior. Offred has always danced on the side of obsequiousness, but now you can see the insolence under the surface. Her facial expressions just that bit exaggerated, pauses slightly too long, her tone one and a half octaves too high to be truly respectful. I bet the Commanders wives would call it sly, but I have to wonder if some of this boldness comes from those 27 games of Scrabble, a secret Serena Joy knows nothing about can make someone feel pretty powerful in a powerless role.
Offred leaves and we follow Serena Joy for once, as she stares at Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) from above and remembers the scorching hot sex they used to enjoy. Well. I've never seen bible verses used as dirty talk before, but it seemed to work for them, so whatever flicks your switch, huntys!
Part of that was about only married sex not being shameful, but since married sex now involves bringing an extra vagina to the table, I have to wonder how those parts dovetail. So to speak.
Serena Joy wants so badly to connect with her husband that she loves, but he's nervous about the delegation and oblivious to her reach.
We get a couple of electric moments with Offred and Nick as she waits to be brought into see the Mexican trade group, when they touch hands and close their eyes, we all did too, right? C'mon, it wasn't just us three, 'fess up you fakers! There is a gorgeous chemistry between them.
Walking into the study is very much like walking into the lion's den, Offred addresses the male closest to her, but it's a woman leading this delegation and she'd like to hear about this Handmaid business.
I am immediately concerned for Mrs. Castillo (Zabryna Guevera)'s safety, they like to "protect" women from their own freedom with as much violence as possible in Gilead. Perhaps she has a gun. See? They create a society in which women aren't safe and then they get to control women to keep them safe: everyone wins! Oh except the women.
Mrs. Castillo starts off with what seems like an innocuous question: what's Offred's name? It's June!! But the Commander steps in to head off that crazy talk, Offred gets her name from her master and Commander, just as the good lord wished it. It's to designate her special status and totally has nothing to do with ownership, nuh uh.
The most important question of all is next and Offred knows she must be very careful: did she choose to be a Handmaid?
Time stops as the Commander stares very hard at Offred until she says "yes" and Mrs. Castillo gushes about Offred's selfless sacrifice.
You can see why Offred was trotted out instead of Janine with that missing eye they took out when she chose to talk that one day.
Serena Joy interrupts with offers of food but the Ambassador isn't done yet. She corners Offred up close, she's chosen such a difficult life, is she happy?
The world moves in slow motion as we see Nick's head swing towards her and the Commander mentally will her answer as Offred strangles her hands. She..."has found happiness" and you can thank Nick and her almost-three orgasms for that answer, Commander. You're welcome.
Cocktails and canapes for the Commanders and their wives, Mrs. Castillo is tired of listening to Commander Waterford go on about how wonderful his country is, how does "the quiet half of the room" like Gilead?
The Commander freezes, then stares hard at the Wives, who all just LOVE it here! Oh yeah, nothing better than watching your husband procreate with a stranger half a foot away from you, good times! Not to mention having no choice or voice in anything other than keeping other women down, it's dreamy, honest!
Surprisingly, Mrs. Castillo quotes Serena Joy's book "A Woman's Place" back to her: "never mistake a woman's meekness as weakness" and I was all excited thinking SJ was secretly a rebel and then I realised it's probably some shite about serving your husband supper and beejs on tap because he's the chosen one or something.
It seems Serena Joy was an activist after all, but not for the Rebellion. Rather she was on the vanguard of "domestic feminism" which sounds a lot like Choice Feminism, i.e.: whatever I do is feminist because I am a feminist (even though I don't do anything to advance women's rights or equality or maybe even know how that looks, but damnit, I'm a feminist). Did Serena Joy ever imagine a world like this?
Serena Joy trots out a handy statistic about carbon emissions reduction (really? 78% reduction on three years? And all it costs is women losing control and choice over their own bodies? A bargain! Just like the woman who wore the "T***p can grab my" t-shirt, we need to think globally) but Mrs. Castillo means something much more personal: did Serena Joy ever imagine a world in which women were no longer allowed to read her book? Or anything at all?
Serena Joy stutters something about sacrifice leading to blessings, mmmhmm as the Commander smiles into his drink.
He's not smiling because he's happy, he's angry that Serena Joy's arrest record was brought up (she was picked up at a rally trying to urge women back into the kitchen and bedroom) and thinks the deal is blown. Serena Joy wants to talk specifics, workshop the problems but he does not see her as help. She can make it look pretty after, the menzazes will do the heavy lifting.
His dismissiveness hits Serena Joy like a blow every time. Here is an intelligent, articulate and passionate woman completely sidelined by her chromosomes.
We're back in the past with a happier and more relaxed Waterford couple, he's busy trying to get everyone aboard the bible belt and she's...working on a second book about fertility as a national resource. You know, not belonging to people, pfftstfft, but rather like oil and water: a national resource that must be rationed and doled out based on a percentage-weighted hierarchy. Sounds legit.
They go to a movie and she proposes this book with a tentative smile on her face, she seems like a good person, you know? Someone you'd meet for supper in a group, maybe the one who makes you roll your eyes when she spends 15 minutes grilling the server about paleo choices but still: well-intentioned. Except that here she's selling women's choices away in her most sancti-mommiest tone.
His phone beeps then, it's happening. The three attacks will happen in three weeks, Congress, then the White House and then the Supreme Court. He looks stunned, but she is happy, they're helping.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, ladies.
Nick's come to collect Offred to see the Commander for their nightly Scrabble game, I felt every second of their five second tryst in the hallway. That's Apple Tree Yard level of heat, yo, I rewound. Incredible.
I am concerned that she tugged up some of his thick hair mid-makeout, I hope he smoothed it down after.
The Commander doesn't want to play Scrabble anyhow, he just wants to bitch about the Mexicans and their stupid astute questions and who needs them anyway? Offred gets caught thinking about Nick and not paying enough attention to pay for the "privilege" of being there, so the Commander kicks her out.
Oh this scene, where she's bracing herself to sell a piece of dignity so that there are no hard feelings between them so it will be easier for her.
I've heard from some that they've found Elisabeth Moss's affect too flat for this role, but I think she's a gifted actress, scenes like that really pull it out.
She turns around, pasting a smile on her face and commences pleading to stay. He calls her over like a bad dog; "come" "here" and then with this shift in power, guess who gets felt up by her boss? Then ordered to kiss him, but not like a dry pucker, like she means it. Then she's dismissed again, and we're left wondering about men who secretly find obedience sexy, not equality.
Because he wants to own her and use her however he likes, but he also wants her to be complicit in this arrangement, to appear to choose to obey him and tend to his needs so that is where we're getting this illusion of independent action.
Offred scrubs her mouth raw and bleeding with her toothbrush after, more blood that water won't quite wash away.
It's time for the big party, the Handmaids all get to attend and be guests, just like people! Janine in particular is excited, so it's no surprise when Serena Joy instructs Aunt Lydia to remove the Handmaids with visible scars. Aunt Lydia pushes back (that did surprise me): these women were all punished for good reason and they deserve to be honoured like everyone else! But "you don't put the bruised apples on top of the crate", do you, Aunt Lydia?
Janine has to be talked down by Offred and Aunt Lydia, sometimes you have to do what is good for everyone, not what is fair, right? Aunt Lydia's compassion for Janine is astounding, considering she was the one who ripped Janine's eye out for being difficult.
I think Aunt Lydia also believes she is doing the lord's work.
The Handmaids all file in to their seats in the great hall, where they're not being honoured so much as they are being held up for perusal. I love the scenes of them moving in formation, it's like a super gruesome Busby Berkely musical without music.
Serena Joy paces in the hallway and we see just where she lost her place in the Domestic Feminism movement: she's no longer allowed to speak at meetings. Remember, this was your idea! She's essentially the Ann Coulter of this piece, who has said that women shouldn't be allowed to vote.
Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken from Billions!) consoles Commander Waterford in the hallway, they made a mistake in allowing women academic pursuits and professional ambition, "we let them forget their real purpose. We won't let that happen again."
We're back at the party and it's Serena Joy's time to shine. Everyone looks confused when she starts to speak, but they're shamming a bit of equality to shore up the currency problem. Serena Joy knows how to do just that, she brings out all the children of Gilead for the Ambassador to delight over.
It's excruciating for the Handmaids, to be so close to the children they were forced to give up, that don't even know them. I could see one making a run for a hug any second.
Alma hisses questions in Offred's ear, what did they talk about at the meeting last night? Did they hear anything? And then suddenly the trade delegation takes on a horrific turn as Alma explains what's really going on. The Handmaids are what they're talking about trading, not oranges. THAT'S why bringing in the children was such a masterstroke, THAT'S why the Ambassador's aide stared at Offred too long, THAT'S what happens when you commodify anything, including fertility. You eventually trade it for something else.
We see the Waterfords moving into Gilead, Serena Joy throwing away all of her pastel clothing and Nick (I involuntarily groan when I see him) getting rid of all the books in the house, "A Woman's Place" but also another one called "A Fleeting Affair," what's that about?
The Commander returns home and they have more sex while she pretends she doesn't really wanna be involved in high level meetings and he pretends he doesn't really want someone to coo at him while making doe eyes from the vantage point of his knees.
Offred bursts into Nick's apartment over the garage, she's furious with herself for lying about what happens in Gilead. She told them she was happy!! He tries to calm her down and succeeds with a glass of water and gets her name. Nice to meet you, June. For the very first time, the Ceremony is called rape and it is powerful.
Last chance to dance: the Ambassador has stopped by to drop off chocolate for Offred and Offred takes her shot. She tells the Mrs. Castillo exactly what happens in Gilead and just as I was thinking Mrs. Castillo would ignore it, she accepts it for a different reason all together. The need for children outweighs everything else, think about the greater good, Offred. The Ambassador says her country is dying, Offred snaps back that hers is already dead.
Commander Waterford draws the Ambassador away, but things take a strange turn. Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas), the aide who kept staring at Offred, offers his help to her. He knows about her child, he knows her name and he knows that her husband Luke (O-T-Fagbenle) is alive.
He hands her a notepad and paper, he'll pass on a message for her. The punishment for writing is having a finger cut off, can she trust this person? And Luke is ALIVE? She just fell in love with the chauffeur! And we're out.
So. Serena Joy wasn't the originator of evil, but an enthusiastic cheerleader along the way, again: so much comparison to everyday life. March for Life, anyone? This makes me think of a book I recently read called "Everybody Lies" by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about Big Data and what it tells us about our time on the internet. Fun fact: pornography involving sexual violence against women is searched out by women in FAR greater numbers than men, why do you suppose that is?
The arc with the Mexican ambassador was interesting, we as Offred saw her as a sympathetic outsider, tantatizling to think there is help close enough to touch. But not, as we see, as yet another woman chooses the oppression of a few for the good of all.
The Ambassador asking if Offred is happy takes on another tone now; I gather Mrs. Castillo was looking to get ahead of her guilt and not doing her due diligence as we thought.
You almost expect it of the men, that's why it's more shocking when it's a woman turning a blind eye or willingly joining the system. I wonder if, in reality, the men are the more sympathetic on the whole?
I argued with myself for a night about this next part, but I'm going to say it anyway because it will bug me if I don't. What if this whole movement was started because one woman couldn't accept that she couldn't have a child with her partner? That one woman being Serena Joy, of course. Too simplistic and plays into stereotypes about the Matriarchy, but still...I wonder. Until next time!